‘We do not want any more masters’: Ruins, planning and the “messy labours” of the urban poor.(Wangui Kimari)

Picture from an apartment building in Kosovo, Mathare, from the author's own file


Amidst the animated conversations about recent national and county development plans for the city, one wonders when Nairobi’s real residents will actually appear. In one of the most recent iterations of this master planning, the Integrated Urban Development Masterplan for the city of Nairobi (NIUPLAN), the now normalized images of futuristic highway networks and buildings (that appear to all derive from a singular neoliberal toolbox) persist unabated. Did the people fall from the many anticipated skyscrapers and super thoroughfares of this aspirational ‘world-class city’? Or are they buried under the literal and literary rubble of these master plans? While there are gestures towards participatory consultation that one notes in the NIUPLAN, in the litany of pages devoted to this document we still do not seem to see or hear the 60-70% of this city who live in the poor zones that account for only 6% of Nairobi’s geography. Instead we encounter the globally sanctioned trademarks of what a city should look like; the fervent ambition to be ‘world-class’1 that endures as a ‘regulating fiction’ for much of our urban life (Robinson 2002). I argue here that despite their invisibility, it is the residents from these Nairobi ruins, its most marginalized spaces, who will determine the viability of the NIUPLAN in their neighbourhoods and in Nairobi broadly. For if we are to track the “long-running drama” (Manji 2015, 7) of master planning in Nairobi, we see that within and despite the imprints of colonial zoning, it is less the overdetermined templates of formal spatial management and more the ‘messy-labours’ (Simone 2015) of urban ruin residents that shape our city geographies for present and future.

Wangui Kimari, «’We do not want any more masters’: Ruins, planning and the “messy labours” of the urban poor », Mambo! XIV (5) 2016


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